Why ‘devastating’ Hassell-Collins is ready to make an England impact
arry Potter mega fan Ollie Hassell-Collins’ flamboyant style belies an unassuming personality.
The England hopeful boasts a shock of blonde hair and a Golden Snitch tattoo on his arm.
The 24-year-old’s dress sense cuts across his quiet demeanour – and neither quality matches his barnstorming on-field persona of stunning footwork, deadly finishing and miserly defence.
But who cares about a haircut or a fashion trend when it comes to a Test-calibre winger? London Irish’s academy staff, that’s who.
Once upon a time rugby’s identikit coaching would have been unable to separate quirks in character from a player’s rugby profile.
At the Exiles’ Hazelwood base, academy boss Patrick O’Grady and his coaches know full well that freedom of expression is just as important on as off the pitch.
“Ollie’s a fairly quiet lad, he’s a lovely guy, very easy to chat to, and very relaxed,” O’Grady tells Standard Sport.
“When he comes on the field and gets ball in hand, you might never expect the devastating effect he has on defences.
“He might be laid back, but also in his character, he’s extremely focused, hard-working and driven.
“His diligence to work to improve, year on year, that’s what has pushed him through.
“With his consistency of hard work, week-in, week-out, year on year, he wouldn’t be where he is now.
“He’s had tough challenges at points of course, but he’s never taken his foot off the gas, he’s always been hell-bent on maximising his potential, and I certainly think he’s doing that.
“There’s compromise, there’s no complacency, and it’s a great message to aspiring young players on what’s actually required to thrive at the top of the sport.”
New England boss Steve Borthwick and assistant coach Kevin Sinfield have raved about Hassell-Collins’ all-round game.
The Reading-born speedster could make his Test debut when England start their Guinness Six Nations campaign by hosting Scotland at Twickenham on February 4.
Borthwick and Sinfield are particularly taken by Ollie Hassell-Collins ’ defensive accuracy, kicking game and strength under the high ball.
A powerful strike runner as well as an expert finisher, Hassell-Collins has all the credentials to thrive at international level.
O’Grady explained though how a raw teenager grafted his way to honing the kind of all-round competence required even to win an opportunity in the Test arena.
“Ollie’s kicking game is a great example – four or five years ago he wouldn’t have had the ability there he does now,” said O’Grady.
“But he has worked and worked on that, every day at the end of training, and that alongside other areas, he has the kind of all-court game you need now to make it at the top level.”
Henry Arundell will be right back in the England mix once he hits full speed again after his foot injury.
Ben Loader, Tom Parton and Will Joseph are further academy lightning-quick academy graduates thriving in Irish’s backline, while Tom Pearson has had a bullish campaign on the flank.
Chandler Cunningham-South and Chunya Munga have broken through in the back-five of the Exiles’ pack too, amid a major resurgence for the west Londoners’ production line.
O’Grady has spent eight years in Irish’s academy, over which time investment, resources and talent development have all markedly improved.
“They’re all completely different individuals needing totally different things,” said O’Grady. “So we create individual programs for all the players in the academy, and that has paid off.
“What we used to do for players compared to what we do now, it’s a completely different level.
“While the players are all different, the similarities with those who break through are just how driven and competitive they are.
“Chandler (Cunningham-South) came over from New Zealand as a teenager, moved to a different country, halfway around the world and has just worked and worked. He’s making an impact already and he’s got a great deal of growth still in him.”